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This briefing predominantly relates to England but also includes information on the position in other countries, including Wales.

Current position

There is currently no general statutory obligation for individuals in England to report child abuse. Government statutory guidance on safeguarding, says “anyone who has concerns about a child’s welfare should consider whether a referral needs to be made to local authority children’s social care and should do so immediately if there is a concern that the child is suffering significant harm or is likely to do so.” While this does not impose a legislative requirement to report abuse, it creates an expectation that those working with children will comply with the guidance unless there are exceptional circumstances.

In addition, some individuals are required to report child safeguarding concerns under standards or codes of conduct set by their professional regulatory body. A failure to adhere to such standards may result in misconduct or fitness to practise proceedings against them.

Mandatory reporting duty

There have been calls for the introduction of a mandatory duty to report known or suspected child abuse for specific groups, such as social workers and teachers. Proponents argue that a mandatory reporting duty would offer greater protection to children. However, others fear it could create a ‘needle in the haystack’ effect and result in a ‘tick-box approach’.

Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

The final report of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse, published in October 2022, said children had suffered as a result of “a marked absence of a cohesive set of laws and procedures in England and in Wales that require individuals working with children to report child sexual abuse”.

The report recommended the UK Government and the Welsh Government introduce legislation placing certain individuals under a statutory duty to report child sexual abuse in prescribed circumstances (for example, where they observe recognised indicators of sexual abuse). 

The report recommended it should be a criminal offence for mandated reporters to not report child sexual abuse when a child or perpetrator discloses it to them, or they witness a child being sexually abused.

Government commits to introducing mandatory reporting duty

In April 2023, the UK Government committed to introduce, subject to consultation, a mandatory reporting duty for those working or volunteering with children to report child sexual abuse.

Following on from an earlier call for evidence, on 2 November 2023, the Government launched a consultation setting out proposals for a mandatory reporting duty and seeking views on “a small but significant set of undecided policy questions.” The consultation closed on 30 November.

In February 2024, the Government confirmed a mandatory reporting duty would be introduced through amendments to the Criminal Justice Bill at its Commons report stage, a date for which has not yet been set.

Mandatory reporting in other countries

Since April 2016 certain public bodies, but not individuals, in Wales have been under a duty to inform the local authority if they have “reasonable cause to suspect that a child” who has needs for care and support is at risk of abuse, neglect or other kinds of harm. There are no criminal sanctions for individuals who fail to report a child at risk.

The Welsh Government accepted the recommendation of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse “in principle” and said, among other things, that it would “explore the implications of placing duties to report children and adults at risk, on individuals”.

Mandatory reporting laws exist in several other countries internationally, including the majority of countries in Europe and some parts of the US, Canada and Australia.

Although there is variation, the core components of mandatory reporting laws include:

  • Who is covered by the duty.
  • What must be reported.
  • Who the report must be made to.
  • Sanctions for failing to report.

Documents to download

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